Calvin Lamborn, plant breeder

by Jeremy Cherfas on August 24, 2017

Calvin lamborn

It isn’t that people don’t want to know who bred their favourite fruit and vegetable varieties, it’s just that the story of those breeders is so seldom put before us. A tribute post from @culinarybreedingnetwork alerted me to the death of Calvin Lamborn. And who is he? Only the man who gave the world Sugar Snap peas, and many other wonderful peas.

Jim Myers, no slouch as a plant breeder himself, had this to say:

Calvin is the reason why we have snap peas as a part of our everyday cuisine in the U.S and in much of the world. Most people think that snap peas have always been part of our food culture, but before Calvin’s work, snap peas were only a very minor curiosity in the garden. When he went to work at Gallatin Valley Seed Company in Twin Falls Idaho as a young plant breeder, he was given the problem of “straightening out” edible podded snow peas. He wondered what would happen if he crossed a spontaneously occurring trait for thick pod walls in the old shelling pea ‘Dark Skin Perfection’ with ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ snow pea. The result was completely unexpected; it did straighten the pods, but it was a completely different crop. The first variety from those breeding efforts was ‘Sugar Snap’ pea and he is responsible for releasing most of the snap pea varieties that we enjoy today. Equally critical, snap peas would remain a minor curiosity today if not for his continuous and tireless promotion of the crop. What I have learned from Calvin is that if you are trying to introduce a new crop, it is not enough to just breed improved versions. One must get it in front of the world to let others understand the novelty and benefits that the crop can bring.

Edible Manhattan has featured Calvin Lamborn, as has Civil Eats — and if you’re really keen, there’s a three-part webinar on YouTube in which Jim Myers talks about “Putting the snap back in snap peas.”

I hope Culinary Breeding Network doesn’t mind me using their image.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Not me! August 25, 2017 at 2:25 am

Sorry to hear this news. Not to take away from his many accomplishments, but the Amish Snap Pea was an heirloom long before Lamborn’s time.

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Jeremy Cherfas August 25, 2017 at 10:16 am

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there were no snap peas before Lamborn.

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Not me! August 27, 2017 at 4:03 am

Edible Manhattan does – the lead sentence of their article starts “When Calvin Lamborn invented the snap pea in the 1970s . . .”

Even Lamborn called himself “Father of the Snap Pea.”

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pea lover August 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm

He is truly the one that bred the STRINGLESS snap pea which made snap peas available to the whole world, and not just the home gardener. Also, I am pretty sure that no one else on this planet has spent as much of their life taking the original Snap Pea, which yes, did exist before, and making improvements. He was well aware that heirloom varieties of Snap Pea had existed for years. However, it was HIS tireless efforts to introduce this “new vegetable” to chefs and food writers in the 70’s that began the journey to introduce the Snap Pea to the general public. I think with all of that, it is fair for him to claim the title of the “Father of the Snap Pea”.

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pea lover August 29, 2017 at 6:48 pm

However, just to be clear, it wasn’t until years later that he learned of several people who had heirloom peas similar to the Sugar Snap. Bottom line, he did discover them on his own, and then went on to create 100’s and of new varietals of Sugar Snaps.

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